Sparrow and the Workshop will be releasing their new album Spitting Daggers on May 30th through Distiller Records. The album was produced and mixed at the new recording studio, The Distillery, by Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno / Sam Amidon). The band comprises of Belfast born, Chicago-raised Jill O Sullivan (vocals/guitar/violin), Welshman Nick Packer (guitar/bass) and Scotsman Gregor Donaldson (drums/vocals.) Jill's voice has developed into a powerhouse of flexibility, allowing her to soar from keening Sandy Denny-esque tones to sensual peaks you're more likely to expect from PJ Harvey. With Gregor providing vocal harmonies alongside drumming and percussion duties, and Nick playing guitar and bass and an instrument combining the two affectionately referred to as the 'basstard', they have matured into a truly astonishing outfit. The band wrote the album between tours in the latter half of 2010 (Incidentally, both Gregor and Nick learned to play the trombone and tenor horn in the weeks leading up to its recording). Both instruments feature on the wonderfully titled song, Our Lady of the Potatoes , (which was inspired by a historical novel of the same name by Duncan Sprott- it s a tale of Louis XV s 14 year old Irish mistress). Other highlights include album opener Pact to Stay Cold , the aggressively battle-tinged You Don t Trust Anyone , Snakes in the Grass and Soft Sound of Your Voice', the eerily confessional album closer. There is something gloriously new about the way Sparrow flit effortlessly between innocent simplicity and dark complexity, from ethereal softness to fearless post-rock crescendos at the drop of a hat. While they have been compared to bands as varied as Jefferson Airplane, Talking Heads and Black Sabbath, this is an album truly of their own making. A headline UK tour will coincide with the album release, tour dates opposite.
They say you can tell a lot about a band by the company they keep. Since the release of last year’s debut LP Crystals Fall, Glasgow-based trio Sparrow and the Workshop have been supporting American rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre (after the latter’s singer Anton Newcombe became smitten with their tune, Devil Song) both in Europe and the US. In addition, they’ve been kicking their heels on tour with The Pogues, while two-thirds of the band also featured on Roddy Woomble’s decidedly rockist recent album, The Impossible Song & Other Songs. Consequently, Spitting Daggers sounds much beefier than its predecessor.
Not that this is a particularly bad thing. But too often this more bombastic new approach doesn’t quite suit them. Singer Jill O’Sullivan has a cool, graceful voice, though here her expressive tones are sometimes swamped amid the harder songs. Faded Glory, for instance, strains for the big anthemic ending, but just sounds like hollow stadium bluster. The same applies to You Don’t Trust Anyone, which forgoes the spectral charm of much of their best work by piling on the muscle.
That said, there are a fair few ripe moments on Spitting Daggers. Pact to Stay Cold strikes a near-perfect balance between misty-mountain folk and roaring rock, the ripping guitar of Nick Packer weighted against O’Sullivan’s plangent vocal. It sounds like a smart conflation of Trembling Bells and Jefferson Airplane. There’s meat in the lyrics too, quite literally in the case of Our Lady of the Potatoes, which tells the libidinous true tale of a Franco-Irish teenager who was discovered by Casanova and became Louis XV’s young mistress. The creeping Soft Sound of Your Voice, meanwhile, feels like a love song with an obsessive edge. "I’d like to butter you up to your eyes," coos a faintly malevolent O’Sullivan, suggesting there’s a sharp knife tucked somewhere in her pinny. The same sense of foreboding pervades Father Look, which builds from a slow throb into something altogether more insistent.
Sparrow and The Workshop have a classic album in there somewhere. This isn’t it, but there’s enough evidence to suggest it isn’t too far from their grasp.
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